If someone were to ask me what verses from the Bible I use most often in sessions with folks struggling in their marriages, it would most likely be Ephesians 4:29-32. While there are obviously many other portions of scripture that share God’s wisdom and direction for living, these four verses address the most common issues I observe in a dysfunctional marriage. If a man and wife were to embrace even these verses, their entire relationship would change.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (vs. 29)
I hear people say the most horrible and demeaning things to one another. Couples who once vowed uncompromising love now use their mouths to destroy each other. The writer of Proverbs was trying to warn us when he wrote, “The tongue holds the power of life and death.” But we explain away and rationalize the way we speak to one another, blaming the other person for the words that come across our lips and proceed to kill each other.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (vs. 30)
We are very aware of how things make us feel but rarely give thought to how God feels. This verse asks us to be aware of how our words and behaviors can make the Holy Spirit that dwells within us (if we are believers in Jesus) incredibly sad. He grieves for what could be in our lives if we would submit and cooperate with Him. But our focus is usually on ourselves. At one of the sessions this week I did not even pray to begin the time. I told the couple that the way they were behaving was totally selfish and sinful, not reflecting their alleged relationship with God in any way, and I did not want them to think our time together was a spiritual one in any way since it was obvious they did not care what God thought or how He felt; that day I was merely acting as a mediator.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (vs. 31)
Once the seeds of anger and bitterness are planted in a relationship they will sprout and bear ugly fruit. This verse advises (actually commands) that we get rid of all anger. Don’t pretend it is not there. Don’t prune it in an attempt to manage it. Rip it out by the roots and throw it away! Remove anger and bitterness and you will remove the majority of discord at the core of divorce.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (vs. 32)
True forgiveness is not selective. God does not forgive some things but not others (although He alone would have the right to do so). As rank and rebellious as we are, He forgives us completely in Jesus Christ. Regrettably, we are quick to receive His forgiveness but reluctant, even resistant, to forgiving others. For whatever reason, we really don’t think God knows what He is talking about in this arena.
Speak only wholesome words. Cooperate with God. Get rid of anger and bitterness. Forgive each other. God is really smart – these are four things well worth doing if you want your marriage (or any relationship) to thrive.